The tree-lined entrance to Augusta National is a hallowed journey for Masters participants and one can only marvel at the thoughts that must race through the players’ minds as they drive through the gates at the start of the week, the anticipation coursing through their veins as one of the world’s most iconic courses awaits in the opening major of the year. The magic begins here.
One of the greatest sensations of a first look at Augusta National, and indeed on every repeat arrival, is the vista that greets you. No amount of viewing through the prism of a television screen can prepare a newcomer for the wonders amidst the Georgia pines. It is a vast panorama of undulating hills and immaculate green-ness, draped in a riot of colourful flora with a picture-perfect white clubhouse looking over it. Drink it in, breathe it in and then pinch yourself that you haven’t fallen unwittingly into a computer-generated golfing idyll.
Even the Masters allows itself a little fun and amidst the order and perfection of it all at Augusta National, this eve of the tournament event allows for a deep breath before the serious stuff gets under way the following morning. It’s just an afternoon of good clean fun on a tailor-made par-three course, every inch the little brother of the majestic 18-hole course that hosts the Masters itself. Traditionally, caddies get the day off as players invite loved ones, from small kids to aged relatives or boy band idols, to don the white boiler suits and generally present the patrons with a more relaxed look.
The mood stays light just a little longer as those arriving early on Thursday witness the honorary starters take their bow and get the Masters, and major season, under way for another year. The honour these days falls to Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, three of the game’s greats who still draw an appreciative gallery at the first tee on the first morning at Augusta National.
It will not be seen on any catwalk in Milan, Paris or London any time soon, but this item of clothing is as revered by golfers like no other. Victory in the Masters earns the champion a green jacket, placed on his shoulders by the previous year’s winner and symbolising entry into an elite club. It is a jacket that tells the world its wearer has arrived and has earned it the hard way.